At the heart of the 12th Cambodia International Film Festival, a riveting photo exhibition titled Indigenous Life and Culture takes centre stage.

Hosted at the prestigious Bophana Audiovisual Resource Centre, the exhibition aims to highlight the rich heritage and vibrant traditions of ethnic minority groups.

Project coordinator at Bophana Audiovisual Resource Centre, Tieng Piseth, emphasised the objectives of the exhibition.

“Our goal is to highlight ethnic minority identity and culture to the wider public. Furthermore, we provide opportunities for ethnic minority youth across various communities to foster teamwork and creativity,” Piseth said.

One such budding talent featured in the exhibition is Thea Yong, a 21-year-old from the Lun ethnic group in Ratanakiri province’s Taveng district. Representing a community of just over 200 members, Yong beautifully captures the nuances of daily life for the Lun. His work showcases their traditional baskets and authentic forest products such as firewood and mushrooms.

“Our aim is to raise awareness about our identity and let everyone know who we are,” he said.

Yong is committed to showcasing his work which depicts the life of the 47 Lun families in Taveng district. Explaining his journey, Yong elaborated on the impact of his film training and his subsequent contributions.

“The Bophana Centre provided me with the skills to produce two documentaries on indigenous culture and the practice of early marriage,” he said.

Yong’s passion for his community’s culture is palpable, and his ambition is to inspire his community’s youth to pursue higher education and reshape long-standing traditions.

The scholarship initiative, The Arts of Visibility and Positive Social Change, offered comprehensive documentary filmmaking techniques to 24 young individuals from diverse minority communities in Ratanakiri and Mondulkiri provinces. As Piseth explains, participants from the Tumpoun, Kavet, Jarai, Kreung, Lun, and Bunong communities took part in this immersive training.

The production of their documentary films, led to a collection of fascinating photographs that reveal the myriad lifestyles and cultural practices of ethnic minority communities. The images, along with artefacts of daily life, now feature in the Indigenous Life and Culture exhibition, further contributing to the development of an archive of ethnic minority culture and knowledge.

Piseth spoke passionately about the exhibition’s significance, highlighting the trainees’ dedication to preserving minority traditions. “This is achieved by encouraging minority youths to preserve their traditions and by providing them with opportunities and support in accessing education,” he said.

Moreover, the Cambodia International Film Festival plans to screen 31 short documentary films by the young trainees. Yong, who had his films displayed at the Olympia Mall during the festival, also saw his works screened at Vattanac Tower and the Bophana Centre. He expressed hope for broader exposure of minority identities through these mediums.

The success of The Arts of Visibility and Positive Social Change project results from the collaborative efforts of the Bophana Centre and the Cambodia Indigenous Peoples Organization (CIPO). Esteemed organisations including Oxfam, the Ford Foundation, and the Heinrich Böll Cambodia Foundation fund the project, recognising the significance of supporting ethnic minority communities and empowering their youth through artistic initiatives.

The Indigenous Life and Culture exhibition takes place at the Bophana Centre from June 1st to June 30th.